Energy and the Polar Environment: Unit Outlines

Feeling overwhelmed by the amount of content in this issue of Beyond Penguins and Polar Bears? Not sure where to begin? We’ve created unit outlines for Grades K-2 and 3-5 using some of the resources found in the Energy and the Polar Environment issue. Rather than a prescriptive unit, the outlines are intended to spark your creativity and help you integrate these resources into your own particular teaching situation.

The unit outlines follow the 5E Learning Cycle model – engage, explore, explain, expand, evaluate.

Have another idea for a Learning from the Polar Past unit? Share it with us – and other teachers – by leaving a comment below!


GRADES K-2 UNIT OUTLINE

Summary of Purpose for the Unit

This unit is designed to assist primary students in learning about abstract physical science concepts (solar energy, the absorption and reflection of light) by engaging them in a consideration of the implications of clothing choices. The unit uses inquiry and text to answer the question Should dark or light clothing be worn on hot days?


Standards Alignment

National Science Education Standards: Science Content Standards

Science content standards are found in Chapter 6 of the National Science Education Standards.

Science as Inquiry (Grades K-4)

  • Ask questions about objects, organisms, and events in the environment
  • Employ simple equipment and tools to gather data and extend the senses
  • Use data to construct a reasonable explanation
  • Communicate investigations and explanations

Physical Science (Grades K-4)

  • Light, Heat, Electricity, and Magnetism

IRA/NCTE Standards for the English Language Arts

View the standards at http://www.ncte.org/standards.

1 – Students read a wide range of print and nonprint texts.

3 – Students apply a wide range of strategies to comprehend, interpret, evaluate, and appreciate texts.

4 – Students adjust their use of spoken, written, and visual language (e.g., conventions, style, vocabulary) to communicate effectively with a variety of audiences and for different purposes.

5 – Students employ a wide range of strategies as they write and use different writing process elements appropriately to communicate with different audiences for a variety of purposes.

8 – Students use a variety of technological and information resources to gather and synthesize information and to create and communicate knowledge.

11 – Students participate as knowledgeable, reflective, creative, and critical members of a variety of literacy communities.

12 – Students use spoken, written, and visual language to accomplish their own purposes.


Unit Outline

Engage

Introduce the topic by inviting students to think about their own clothing choices. As a class, count the number of students wearing dark- or light-colored clothes. Post this number, and create a bar graph or histogram to represent the data. Or, set up the axes for a bar graph on the board or on chart paper. Give each student a sticky note and have the students construct the bar graph by placing their note on the correct bar (dark clothing or light clothing). Ask students to think about and discuss why they chose to wear light or dark clothing to school. Record student ideas on the board or on chart paper.

Next, tell students that the choice between light- and dark-colored clothing is a question that people have been interested in for a long time. Show students the 1910 New York Times article “Should Dark or Light Clothes Be Worn On Hot Days? Interesting Experiments by Government Experts on the Effect of the Color of Garments.” Tell students that they are going to do their own experiments to find an answer to this question.

Explore

Guide students to write a testable question (such as “Do dark or light colors stay cooler in hot temperatures?”) in their science notebooks, or write and post the question on chart paper as a whole class activity. Next, help students generate predictions based on their own prior knowledge. Teachers of younger students may wish to hold a class discussion and generate a prediction to post on chart paper, while teachers of older students may use thinking stems (“I think that…because…”) to assist students as they write predictions independently.

After making predictions, students should design and conduct an investigation to answer the testable question. The lesson Light Absorption can be modified for a basic procedure in which students make pockets out of black and white paper and track their temperatures when placed under a lamp. Teachers could also use light and dark fabrics or even T-shirts in similar investigations.

Again, the amount of teacher direction can vary depending on the age and abilities of the students. Teachers might design the investigation and give students steps to follow (or conduct the investigation as a whole class activity), or provide materials and guide students in designing and implementing their own investigation. The book Using Science Notebooks in Elementary Classrooms by Michael Klentschy provides a wealth of information on investigations.

After students conduct the investigation and collect data, they should be guided in interpreting the data and drawing conclusions. Teachers using the method outlined in Using Science Notebooks in Elementary Classrooms will assist students in making claims based on evidence and drawing conclusions in their own notebooks. Others might accomplish this as a whole class discussion, posting student claims and conclusions on the board or on chart paper.

Explain

In this phase of the unit, students extend and fully develop the understandings they’ve gained from their Explore investigations. They also develop mastery of scientific vocabulary. Begin by reading The Shiniest Moon – an informational text available at K-1, 2-3, and 4-5 reading levels and in text-only, illustrated book, and electronic book forms. The text explores the difference between light and dark colors and introduces the vocabulary terms “absorb” and “reflect.” Take time to discuss these terms, and consider using a mirror to demonstrate the meaning of the word “reflect.” Teachers may also consider supplementing with other books about light, including those in our virtual bookshelf.

Next, have students each create a page for a class Question and Answer Book. Use the question posed in the New York Times article (Should dark or light clothing be worn on hot days?) as the basis for each student’s work. Students should use the evidence gained from both their investigations and the texts read during the Explain phase to answer the question through writing or pictures.

Expand

Students may provide questions that direct this phase of the unit, such as investigating differences between various colors instead of just light and dark. Teachers can also use this unit to transition to a study of other clothing properties, such as insulation. Our Keeping Warm unit provides an instructional sequence and resources that could be used to expand on student learning.

Assess

This unit provides opportunities for both formative and summative assessment.

Formative Assessment
Formative assessment is conducted throughout the unit. For example:

  • Observation of students’ participation in class activities throughout the unit will provide insight into their current understanding and engagement with the topic.
  • Ongoing completion of science notebook entries will provide insight into students’ abilities to pose a question, make predictions, conduct an investigation, record data, and make evidence-based claims.
  • Student discussion throughout the unit will provide insight into their current understanding of the science concepts.

Summative Assessment
Summative assessment occurs during the Explain phase, as students work on the class Question and Answer Book. Student work can be assessed using a rubric that includes criteria for the quality of the answer, use of appropriate scientific vocabulary (absorb, reflect), use of evidence from the investigation, and overall quality of work.


GRADES 3-5 UNIT OUTLINE

Summary of Purpose for the Unit

This unit is designed to introduce elementary students to the concept of albedo – the ability of an object to reflect light and the impact of albedo on an object’s temperature. It uses text and inquiry to develop an understanding of albedo, the varying albedo of Earth surfaces and materials, and the connection between albedo and climate change.


Standards Alignment

National Science Education Standards: Science Content Standards

Science content standards are found in Chapter 6 of the National Science Education Standards.

Science as Inquiry (Grades K-4 and 5-8)

  • Ask questions about objects, organisms, and events in the environment
  • Employ simple equipment and tools to gather data and extend the senses
  • Use data to construct a reasonable explanation
  • Communicate investigations and explanations

Physical Science

  • Light, Heat, Electricity, and Magnetism (Grades K-4)
  • Transfer of Energy (Grades 5-8)

Earth and Space Science

  • Objects in the sky (Grades K-4)
  • Earth in the solar system (Grades 5-8)

IRA/NCTE Standards for the English Language Arts

View the standards at http://www.ncte.org/standards.

1 – Students read a wide range of print and nonprint texts.

3 – Students apply a wide range of strategies to comprehend, interpret, evaluate, and appreciate texts.

4 – Students adjust their use of spoken, written, and visual language (e.g., conventions, style, vocabulary) to communicate effectively with a variety of audiences and for different purposes.

5 – Students employ a wide range of strategies as they write and use different writing process elements appropriately to communicate with different audiences for a variety of purposes.

8 – Students use a variety of technological and information resources to gather and synthesize information and to create and communicate knowledge.

11 – Students participate as knowledgeable, reflective, creative, and critical members of a variety of literacy communities.

12 – Students use spoken, written, and visual language to accomplish their own purposes.


Unit Outline

Engage

Using an interactive white board or computers, have students read and listen to the first four pages of The Shiniest Moon electronic book. (If you need to use a paper version – either the text only version or the illustrated book – stop reading at the discussion of the experiment in the fourth paragraph of the text-only version or on page 4 of the illustrated book.) Guide students in formulating a testable question (such as How does color affect an object’s temperature?) and in writing predictions. It may be helpful to use a thinking stem such as “I think that…because…” to help students write a prediction and justify their thinking. Questions and predictions can be recorded in students’ science notebooks.

Explore

Have students set up and conduct the experiment described on page 4 of The Shiniest Moon. You can also use the procedure described in the lesson Light Absorption, which uses pockets of black and white paper instead of tennis balls. Students should track temperature data over a period of time and record it in a table in their science notebooks. Tables can be student- or teacher-generated, depending on students’ abilities and needs.

Explain

At this point, students should analyze their data and explain their findings. If you are following the science notebook format of Using Science Notebooks in Elementary Classrooms, you should direct students to write evidence-based claims, draw conclusions, and pose questions for further study.

Next, read the next page of The Shiniest Moon (through page five of the electronic book, the first paragraph of page seven of the illustrated book, or the sixth paragraph of the text-only document). The text introduces the vocabulary term albedo, which is the amount of light reflected by an object. Use purposeful questioning and whole class discussion to help students relate their findings to the concept of albedo. For background information about albedo, please see Solar Energy, Albedo, and the Polar Regions. If necessary, repeat the experimental procedure used in the Explore phase, and discuss how the differences in temperature between the black and white tennis balls (or paper pockets) show that the colors have different albedos. Or ask students to share their experiences in wearing dark or light colors on a sunny day.

You may also wish to have students take notes about The Shiniest Moon. Our template, Note It 3 Ways, provides an opportunity for students to record important terms or concepts, definitions (in their own words), and graphic representations. For more information about the strategy of note taking, please see Note Taking: Enhancing the Ability to Comprehend Nonfiction Text.

Once students have developed a basic understanding of the word albedo, return to The Shiniest Moon. Read the sixth page of the electronic book (or the second paragraph on the seventh page of the illustrated book or the seventh paragraph in the text-only document) and ask students to consider Earth’s albedo. The text states that each surface (oceans, ice, forests, and fields) has a different albedo, but which has the highest? Which has the lowest albedo?

Explore

The lesson Investigating Radiation is the basis for the second Explore phase. In the lesson, students investigate how different surfaces absorb heat. The lesson calls for dark soil, light-colored sand, and water, but you may modify this to include other materials (different colored soils, grass, leaves) that represent the various surfaces found on Earth.

First, guide students to write a testable question, such as Which Earth material absorbs the most light? Decide on the materials to be used (or allow students to select from a variety of materials to test) and write predictions using a thinking stem such as “I think that…because….”

Next, students should conduct the investigation and record data in their science notebooks. The lesson involves monitoring temperatures for two ten-minute periods (heating and cooling), but the procedure can be modified to just include the heating phase.

Explain

At this point, students should analyze their data and explain their findings. If you are following the science notebook format of Using Science Notebooks in Elementary Classrooms, you should direct students to write evidence-based claims, draw conclusions, and pose questions for further study. Student claims and conclusions should focus on what types of surfaces absorb more light, and are hotter. Allow students to share and discuss their claims and conclusions. Help students engage in scientific discourse by focusing on the evidence and interpretation of that evidence.

Next, show students a visual representation of the global albedo. This image, produced by a sensor aboard NASA’s Terra satellite, shows the variation in the albedo of Earth’s land surfaces. Discuss the image with students, using the key to interpret the colors shown in various locations. (Reds show the highest albedo, or bright, reflective surfaces. Blues and violets show the lowest albedo, or least reflective surfaces. Yellows and greens represent intermediate values.) Help students connect their data to what is shown on the map. For more information, please see Solar Energy, Albedo, and the Polar Regions.

Finish reading The Shiniest Moon. Students may continue taking notes using the Note It 3 Ways template. Discussion should focus on how the changing amount of ice on Earth has affected Earth’s albedo, and how the changing albedo affects Earth’s temperature.

Next, introduce the idea of cause and effect using the first three steps of the instructional sequence found in the lesson Exploring Cause and Effect Using Expository Texts About Natural Disasters. Continue to follow the lesson, using The Shiniest Moon instead of the texts recommended in the lesson. Students will re-read The Shiniest Moon, or listen to it a second time, and record examples of cause and effect on a graphic organizer. Finally, they use their graphic organizer to write a cause and effect paragraph based on what they’ve learned from The Shiniest Moon and from their investigations into albedo.

Expand

Ideally, student questions and wonderings direct this phase of the unit. Teachers might also choose to begin a unit on climate change after completing this unit.

Assess

This unit provides opportunities for formative and summative assessment.

Formative Assessment
Formative assessment is conducted throughout the unit. For example:

  • Observation of students’ participation in class activities throughout the unit will provide insight into their current understanding and engagement with the topic.
  • Ongoing completion of science notebook entries will provide insight into students’ abilities to pose a question, make predictions, conduct an investigation, record data, and make evidence-based claims.
  • Student discussion throughout the unit will provide insight into their current understanding of the science concepts.
  • Student completion of the Note It 3 Ways template will provide insight into their current understanding of the science concepts, text, and ability to take notes.

Summative Assessment

Summative assessment occurs during the second Explain phase, as students work on their cause-and-effect paragraphs. The lesson Exploring Cause and Effect Using Expository Texts About Natural Disasters includes a basic rubric for evaluating cause-and-effect paragraphs. Teachers may wish to modify this to include specific criteria about albedo and the science concepts addressed in this lesson.


This article was written by Jessica Fries-Gaither. For more information, see the Contributors page. Email Jessica at beyondpenguins@msteacher.org.

Copyright October 2008 – The Ohio State University. This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. 0733024. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation. This work is licensed under an Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported Creative Commons license.

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